As a music-mad teenager, and then working for a major record label for a few years, I’ve been a long-time festival-goer. I feared that those days would be long gone once kids came along, but then we moved back up north and discovered Deer Shed. This self-proclaimed family-friendly festival takes place just outside Thirsk each July and, like many York families, we now plan our summer holidays to make sure we don’t miss it. The festival is now an impressive decade old, so we headed along to Deer Shed 10 to see what was on offer this year. Here are ten reasons we loved it.
Allowing children into a festival is not the same thing as putting families at the heart of it, and that’s what Deer Shed does brilliantly. From the little things, like the presence of an NCT tent where you can bathe and change your baby, to the programme of inspiring, child-friendly science, music and arts, it’s a place where families can relax, enjoy themselves and be themselves for the weekend.
There’s a lovely atmosphere around the Deer Shed arena and campsite and it hits you as soon as you arrive. No festival agro here: it’s relaxed, friendly, safe and just a little bit special. It’s also slightly addictive – families return year after year to get their annual fix of Deer Shed magic. The more you go, the more you feel it.
You’re never too young to get something from the Deer Shed experience. There are oodles of activities for babies, tots and pre-schoolers, with some of our favourite York people featuring on the programme (Dinosaurs Love Fairy Cakes, Hoglets and Jenna Drury among others). That’s not all: you can heat up baby food in a microwave, borrow a sling or highchair and use the bottle steriliser. Brilliant.
We spent a lot of time in the Science Tent this year, as we always do. There’s a huge array of intriguing science and technology activities for kids of all ages, with some drop-in sessions and others that need pre-booking (organised parents will prevail – bad news for us). Our children really enjoyed having a go at retro games, taking part in a Rubik’s Cube workshop and doing some VR. Other hits included making friendship bracelets and having a go at family yoga (sadly we missed the Brexit yoga – the mind boggles). The Sports Arena always has a huge selection of activities to get stuck into, from hula-hooping to Quidditch, and is another place we always gravitate to. Pouring rain didn’t even begin to dampen our spirits: our eldest (9) loved playing a giant game of human ‘table football’ while our two girls (7 and 4) enjoyed badminton, table tennis, crazy golf and space hoppering around the field like wild things.
While we’re all for keeping costs down by taking some of our own food – festival food is rarely wallet-friendly – the sights and smells are always too good to resist. Nutritionists, look away now….For us, this year’s hits included Nutella crepes, sourdough cheese toasties, halloumi and fries and some rather epic Yorkshire sausages. Well, we had to fuel all that activity somehow. Queues can be long, so we’d suggest being strategic: adults should take it in turns rather than turning queuing into a family activity, and consider eating at funny times to avoid peak crowd hunger (not a problem for our kids, who’d happily eat lunch at 10am every day).
6. Or thirsty
With Deer Shed 10 being a birthday party, it would have been rude not to raise a glass or two. The only problem was choosing between the Sloemotion cocktail tent, gin bar, prosecco bar and ample ales on offer. Chin chin!
We’ve learned that it’s worth spending the first hour or two working our way through the programme and planning our weekend. There’s a huge amount going on and it all sounds brilliant, but we’d recommend working out your must-dos (the things you’ll be really cross about missing) and then going with the flow for the rest of the time. The joy is often in the things you come across by accident, like the incredible beatboxing session with Bellatrix that we stumbled across in the Big Top which totally blew our minds.
Although it’s lovely to see all our favourite things year after year, like the rows of swingball that are perfect for whiling away a few minutes before our next activity, there’s always something new to enjoy. From new workshops to new activities in the Sports Arena and new festival-wide initiatives like ditching single-use plastic bottles, cups and cutlery (hoorah!), it’s familiar but not boringly predictable. If they could just work out a way to make festival loos delightful and queue-free, we’d be really happy!
The heatwave made a hasty departure at the start of the festival, swiftly followed by buckets of rain. Although it made everything a bit harder – and definitely muddier – we still had a good time. The downsides – everyone crowding into the tents for cover, not being able to sit down on the ground, the forlorn faces of the ice cream stall holders – were balanced out by having the right clothes and attitude. We’ve encouraged our kids to embrace the rain – we do live in Yorkshire, after all – so they weren’t phased by being a bit soggy.
It’s ridiculously easy to get there from York. We got there in about 40 minutes: ideal when we had a car full of eager little festival-goers, and even better on the way home when they were muddy, exhausted and in dire need of a bath.